The heavily protested Dakota Access Pipeline Project is being re-routed and will not cross Lake Oahe after all, the US Army Corps of Engineers announced on Sunday. The decision was cause for celebration for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and water protectors, who have protested the pipeline for several months.
Since spring, thousands of people had gathered near Cannon Ball, N.D., to protest the construction of an oil pipeline near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. The protests have occasionally resulted in violent clashes with law enforcement.
But just 150 miles north on the Missouri River, oil and gas development is benefitting another Indian Nation and is welcomed with open arms.
While the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe sees the Dakota Access Pipeline Project as an environmental and cultural threat to their land and heritage, the Indian Nations to the north see it as a gift.
Pipelines and pumpjacks are plentiful on the Fort Berthold reservation, where many have found prosperity working and living hand in hand with oil and gas production.
More than 4,000 miles of pipe carrying oil, natural gas and wastewater criss-cross underground beneath the reservation in the heart of the Bakken oil patch. Fort Berthold is home to the Three Affiliated Tribes — the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara — known as MHA Nation.
“We are in this oil play already,” tribal environmental director Edmund Baker has said. “We want to be able to do it responsibly. We want to be able to do it competently. We want to show other tribes that it can be done.”
T.J. Plenty Chief owns three trucks with Red Road Trucking, a business he started in 2012. He said truck drivers in the oil fields can make over $90,000 per year. His job pays the bills, helping him support nine children.
MHA Nation has brought in substantial money from oil production on its lands — $800 million in tax revenue since 2008, according to North Dakota’s tax commissioner’s office. Plus, MHA Chairman Mark Fox says the nation’s collected $800 million in royalties payments.
The nation has built new apartments for residents. It also has established a new health care system and made payments of $1,000 to each tribal member three times a year, according to reports.
The chairman admits oil development poses a risk. “We sure as hell don’t want to do it in such a way that we taint or diminish the value of our most important asset, which is water,” he said. That’s why these tribal leaders — like the Standing Rock Sioux to the south — are fighting a pair of new crude and natural gas pipelines slated to cross under the reservoir.
“We are not against all pipelines,” Fox said. “But what we are against is when pipeline (companies) come onto Fort Berthold through other entities and think they are going to develop or utilize pipelines without the approval of our tribe.
Williams, head of MHA’s oil company, said that oil development comes with an immense responsibility to protect its environment.
“If people don’t take care of their pipelines, their wells, their production, they are going to destroy their land, plain and simple,” he said.
It’s a decision tribes like MHA and Standing Rock must face as they weigh out whether the infrastructure is worth the costs to their land and environment.
Regarding the Dakota Access Pipeline, its proposed route was said to traverse ancestral lands — which are not part of the reservation. This is where their forebears hunted, fished and were buried. Historical and cultural reviews of the land where the pipeline will be buried were inadequate, according to DAP protestors.
Gov. Jack Dalrymple of North Dakota ordered a mandatory evacuation of the area where the demonstrations are taking place, as more activists have vowed to join the protest.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe reservation lies 0.5 miles south of the formerly proposed crossing, which caused concern over the risk that a pipeline rupture or spill could contaminate the tribe’s water supply and treaty rights.
“The best way to complete that work responsibly and expeditiously is to explore alternate routes for the pipeline crossing,” said a US Army Corp of Engineers spokesman.
The consideration of alternative routes would be best accomplished through an Environmental Impact Statement with full public input and analysis, said the spokesman.
The Dakota Access Pipeline is an approximately 1,172 mile pipeline that would connect the Bakken and Three Forks oil production areas in North Dakota to an existing crude oil terminal near Pakota, Illinois. The pipeline is 30 inches in diameter and is projected to transport approximately 470,000 barrels of oil per day, with a capacity as high as 570,000 barrels.